State promises to re-examine Sandy forbearance program after KIYC investigation

Last month, Kane In Your Corner told you how Yadira and Jorge Saraceno of Sayreville, and other Sandy survivors, felt they were being let down by the state.

Walt Kane

Feb 7, 2023, 3:55 AM

Updated 437 days ago

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A Kane In Your Corner investigation has led to results for homeowners who said the state wasn’t keeping up its end of the Superstorm Sandy mortgage forbearance program. The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance is promising to re-examine complaints from homeowners who were wrongly charged interest during the forbearance period.
Last month, Kane In Your Corner told you how Yadira and Jorge Saraceno of Sayreville, and other Sandy survivors, felt they were being let down by the state. The Saracenos were among hundreds of thousands of families who accepted interest-free mortgage forbearances to enable them to rebuild their homes. So when the forbearance ended, they were surprised and disappointed when their bank told them they owed over $41,000 in back interest.
They weren’t alone.
“Right now, we have three families 10 years after Sandy that are struggling to get out of the mortgage forbearance program in a way that doesn't cost them hundreds of thousands of total additional dollars that they should not have to pay,” says Amande Devecka Rinear, executive director of the New Jersey Organizing Project.
Kane In Your Corner’s investigation finds the problem stemmed from two state agencies not being on the same page. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs set up the program, and sent letters to all New Jersey mortgage lenders in 2017 informing them, “It is the Department’s position that interest does not accrue during a period of mortgage forbearance,” adding that the law’s intent “would be undermined if interest was continuing to accrue.” But the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance was charged with enforcing banking law, and it was telling some homeowners the exact opposite. In a letter to the Saracenos, NJDOBI insisted the family did owe the back interest, because “the Sandy Forbearance Program did not eliminate the charging of interest but (merely) deferred the payments.”
The two agencies now seem to have settled their differences. “To be clear, interest does not accrue during the period of mortgage forbearance,” says Lisa Ryan, a spokesperson for NJDCA.
Moments after that statement, the Saracenos say they got a call from NJDOBI, promising to reevaluate their case. NJDOBI also told Kane In Your Corner it would do the same for the other families which had contacted News 12 with similar complaints.
“I am hopeful,” Yadira Saraceno says now. “I am expecting the state to stand by the law just like we have to stand by the law and do what’s right for Sandy survivors.”
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